Lately, it occurs to me that we are a society obsessed with being right. Sometimes, anyway. Especially when it comes to our personal beliefs, standards and behaviours. Just listen to a politician. A religious leader. A health expert. Or maybe, your dear-old dad. Or you. Or me. Just saying. They (we) all have their own non-negotiable beliefs. Which work well sometimes. In some situations. But not all the time. The key is to know when. And when not. How often do you hear people say “I was wrong” or “I don’t really know” or “I’m not sure, what do you think?”
The Need to be Right
Pick a topic that’s relevant to all of us (religion, marriage, sexuality, the best diet, the best way to exercise, the best way to make money) and you’ll find that many of us are committed to, not only defending, explaining and voicing our beliefs at every available opportunity but also, imposing our personal paradigm (thinking, beliefs, world view) on as many people as possible. Some of us thrive on being right. *The need to be right comes mostly from fear and ego but we won’t explore that today.
Because of my background and field of (alleged) expertise, I am constantly being bombarded by people who feel compelled to teach me the most effective way to eat and exercise. That is, the science of physical transformation. When people that I don’t know email me advice that I haven’t asked for while wrapping it in an ‘I care about you’ ribbon, I smile. And press delete. Invariably, they want me to endorse or promote some kind of product.
It’s also occurred to me lately that I have many friends with whom I disagree on a range of issues (from time to time). Philosophically, spiritually, strategically, professionally and personally. Maybe I’m difficult? Fortunately, for both, my friends and me, the health and on-going survival of our relationship is not dependant on agreement, alignment or common belief. If my friends all thought like me, behaved like me and constantly agreed with me, I’d be surrounded by a bunch of… me.
Definitely not what I’m after.
Yes, I will share my version of reality with people when I believe it’s appropriate and someone is interested (like I’m doing right now) but in the context of my day-to-day life, I never impose my thinking on anyone. Interestingly, I’m often told how quiet I am in social situations. As a rule, I’m more interested in listening than speaking. Anyway, I’m glad we’re all different and I’m glad we don’t all live in the same place.
Sadly, in the middle of our differences, the thing we’re so often missing is tolerance. Too many of us have an unhealthy need to be right. Why isn’t it okay for you to believe ‘A’ while I believe ‘B’? Does it really matter? I mean really? Sometimes it might but most times it won’t. I think we could go a long way to eradicating the ‘need to be right’ problem (for want of a better term) if we were to ask ourselves two questions in relevant situations:
1. Are her beliefs really hurting anyone?
2. In the middle of his beliefs, is he (mostly) happy?
If the answers are no and yes (and they usually are), then I have no compulsion or instinct to share another perspective – no matter how right I might think I am. Yes, there are exceptions to the rule – especially in relation to question one – (please don’t feel the need to share them here) but my experience has taught me that, in most situations, the two-question protocol works fine. If, per chance, someone believes in something that doesn’t actually exist but the net result of her belief is zero harm to anyone else and considerable happiness to her then why on earth would I challenge that?
If the guy whose life revolves around believing in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and Santa is happy because of those beliefs (happiness being the universal goal – and if he’s not trying to force his beliefs on any one else) then I have no interest in teaching him something new. In fact, I’d like to learn from him.
Same but Different
I have two business partners; Mikey and Johnny. I love them both like brothers. While we share many common beliefs and values (we’re all totally committed to pointless lunch-time conversation, laughter and hurting ourselves in the gym), there are also areas where our thinking, behaviour and habits totally diverge. However, in the middle of our individuality, I never wonder who’s right or wrong. Instead, I just appreciate and celebrate our differences.
And quietly know that I’m better.